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The Dilemma: Communities and the Justice Involved, Pt. 2

The transition from incarceration back into society is laden with numerous barriers, compounded by the psychological trauma of prolonged confinement. This harrowing process is one that many fail to navigate successfully. The so-called 'revolving door' of recidivism is often mischaracterized as a product of inherent criminality. While there is, in fact, a criminal behavior element for a minority of individuals who reoffend, for the majority, ‘re-offense’ involves a complex web of hopelessness, systemic disenfranchisement, emotional and psychological trauma, and societal rejection.

When we discuss recidivism, we are not just referring to previously incarcerated individuals committing new crimes. According to the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC), recidivism is defined as a “return to incarceration within three years of the offender’s date of release from a state correctional institution.” This definition includes any reason for a return to incarceration, such as violations of supervisory release conditions or technical violations like drinking alcohol or breaking curfew. Therefore, when we talk about Indiana’s 29.79% recidivism rate (which is significantly lower than the national average), this number includes both individuals who committed new crimes and those who violated supervisory rules.

This distinction is crucial. The general public, influenced by politicians and other agenda-driven pundits, often equates recidivism with criminals committing new crimes. Such misconceptions spur expanded transitional barriers that hinder reintegration, vilify justice-involved individuals, and perpetuate the cycle of re-offense. In fact, an examination of Indiana’s recidivism rate reveals that 65% of individuals returned to incarceration due to technical rule violations.

This statistic is telling for a significant reason: breaking rules, especially with severe consequences, often stems from a mentality issue. These individuals are not hopeless criminals but rather lost souls struggling to find their way. Since these individuals will eventually return to our communities, we, as a society, have a responsibility to address the root causes of their struggles.

The answer to whether we should help is a resounding, “Yes!” Unfortunately, reality often shows a lukewarm, “Maybe.” However, measurable solutions to recidivism are outlined in an IDOC report, specifically the Impact of Education and Employment on Recidivism. This report systematically examined justice-involved individuals released from incarceration in Indiana's five most populated counties. Unsurprisingly, the study showed that education and employment significantly impact recidivism rates.

Specifically, individuals with a college education at the time of release had a recidivism rate of 21%. Those with both a college education and employment saw an even further reduction, with a recidivism rate of just 17%. Despite these promising figures, most college programs have been removed from Indiana correctional facilities, and employment (along with housing) remains an area where it is legally permissible to discriminate against justice-involved individuals. The data clearly indicates that it is more effective (both practically and financially) to invest in education and employment opportunities than to build more prisons. And yet...

Or consider this perspective: if we recognize that justice-involved individuals often develop a rule-breaking mentality and empowerment issues due to the loss of self-determination while incarcerated, then what better solutions exist than education and employment to address these challenges? Education provides the knowledge and skills necessary for personal and professional growth, fostering a sense of purpose and capability. Employment offers not only financial stability but also a sense of responsibility and inclusion in society. Together, these two solutions can (and have) significantly mitigate the detrimental effects of incarceration, helping individuals rebuild their lives and reintegrate successfully into their communities. And yet…

One might not need to be a conspiracy theorist to see the alarming shortcomings of the current rehabilitation efforts. At what point do we, as citizens, demand that our tax dollars be used effectively and beneficially for our communities? Crime, poverty, and disenfranchisement are significant problems, especially in black and brown communities. There are tangible and conclusive remedies to these issues, yet there is substantial resistance to enacting them.

Perhaps now is the time to start asking the hard questions about why this resistance exists. Why are effective solutions not being implemented? Why do we continue to invest in punitive measures rather than preventive and rehabilitative ones? Addressing these questions is crucial for breaking the cycle of recidivism and fostering healthier, more inclusive communities.

* Statistical information found in The Indiana Department of Corrections 1) 2022 Adult Recidivism Summary; and 2) Impact of Education and Employment on Recidivism, Summary.

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